Accepted paper:

Biosocial futures of the family in forensic DNA databases


Rafaela Granja (University of Minho)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the biosocial processes entangled in the technique of familial searching in forensic DNA databases. An STS analysis points out how, through materialization processes, this innovation frames the family in new forms of genetic plasticity, and in ambiguous and malleable categories.

Paper long abstract:

The uses attributed to the storage of genetic information in large computerized forensic databases have been expanding, further enhancing the performativity of DNA in investigating and solving criminal cases. One innovative application is familial searching, a technology that allows finding crime perpetrators through their genetic connection with relatives whose profiles are included in forensic databases. Recognising the generative power of forensic science in producing suspects through familial biogenetic ties, this paper explores how, through a heterogeneous assemblage of actors, technical instruments and understandings about science, technology, criminality and family, genetic fragments are integrated into a bundle of biosocial relations. This process of genetic plasticity invites reflection upon three interrelated dimensions. The first one concerns the forms whereby familial searching materializes family within technology through technical processes of simplification, disregarding its biosocial and relational character. The second dimension relates to the potential of familial searching to turn relatives of people in the database into genetic suspects. Mobilizing genetic plasticity and turning DNA into an associating element, this investigative technique thus creates new forms of classifying families in ambiguous and malleable categories. The last one shows how, by being able to expand the biopolitical apparatus of governance technologies to flexible populations, familial searching also challenges and broadens the concept of biological citizenship.

panel T084
Technologies of Criminalization: On the convergence of forensic and surveillance technologies